“Fast & Furious 6”: Going along for the ride


“Fast & Furious 6” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Cinema Cafe. PG-13, 2 hours 10 minutes, 2 and a half stars out of four.

Back when I reviewed the first “The Fast and the Furious” movie in 2000, I griped about the unreality of the film’s car chases. Surely a car wouldn’t really fly that high in the air after hitting a jump that small.

In “Fast & Furious 6,” as a tank flipped up on the highway, launching the woman perched on its turret over a gorge, and another man leaped from the other side of the divide to catch her in midair, I considered I might have been too hasty in my original criticism.

Forget real-world physics. The car chases and crashes of the sixth installment don’t adhere to the physics of my old Matchbox car races, when cars would do septuple-flips off the dining room table and into the litter box.

But that is much of the fun of the franchise since director Justin Lin (who was at the Wisconsin Film Festival a lifetime ago with his indie debut “Better Luck Tomorrow” in 2003) took over the “F & F” movies. “Fast Five” was unquestionably the best of the series, bookending a decent heist plot with two inventive and hilariously over-the-top car chases.

“6” doesn’t have quite the gonzo appeal of that giant safe smashing through the streets of Rio, but it does end with two lengthy and inspired action sequences, which is all anybody is in their seats for. It’s loud, dumb fun — sometimes too dumb for its own good.

After the $100 million heist of “Fast Five,” the heroes are enjoying their ill-gotten goods in extradition-free countries. But government agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) convinces them to reunite, this time on the side of the angels to take down an ex-Special Forces agent named Shaw (Luke Evans) and his team, who want to steal a thing. Really, it does not matter what that thing is, so why waste time explaining it?

Hobbs’ ace card is that one of Shaw’s team is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), back from the dead and apparently suffering from amnesia. (They must be saving the evil twin plot for “F&F 7.”) So her ex-lover Dom (Vin Diesel), partner Brian (Paul Walker) and the crew are persuaded to take Shaw down so they can take Letty back.

For a six-film series that’s basically a series of tenuously-connected action sequence, it’s surprising how much “Fast & Furious” relies on its mythology, bringing back recurring characters and tying up loose ends. Dom and Brian’s team has gotten larger and larger with every film, and the movie hammers home its idea that this isn’t car thief ring, it’s “family,” every chance they get. A welcome addition to the team this time around is MMA star Gina Carano (“Haywire”), who plays Hobbs’ new partner and gets into one dilly of a fight in a subway station.

The film briskly moves along — there may be as many as a dozen separate action sequences before those two closing setpieces — only slowing down enough for some comic relief from Tyrese Gibson or Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (who have the only good lines in the film). And those setpieces — a tank vs. cars duel on the freeway, and a desperate chase to catch a plane that’s taking off, with cars ending up dangling off the plane’s wings like Christmas ornaments — are pretty great.

A coda contains a cameo setting up the villain for the next installment — it’s the one actor who should be in these movies by now but isn’t. I expect it’ll be about as good and about as silly as this one — this is a franchise that knows what it is and what it needs to deliver.